The Galaxy S23 Ultra is one of the very best Android phones your money can buy right now. If you have one, the very first thing you probably did with it, right after unboxing and getting set up, was trying out that fancy new 200MP camera. But maybe the phone’s coolest trick involves its telephoto camera. The ability of these phones to combine that lens with additional digital zoom to grab some surprisingly decent pictures of the Moon (famously going up to 100X) went viral last year with the arrival of the Galaxy S22 Ultra — and Samsung’s latest phone is just as capable of this. However, a minor scandal has broken out around claims that these Moon shots are artificially enhanced with an excessive dose of AI. If you ask me, though, this whole thing is being blown way out of proportion. In fact, it’s not a bad thing at all.
Is my Galaxy S23 Ultra taking fake Moon pictures?
Well, I wouldn’t call them “fake.” You are, after all, aiming your phone at the Moon and taking a picture. What your phone is capturing is a real photo of our planet’s lone natural satellite, and of the sunlight shining at it and reflecting back to you, showing its prominent impact craters and lunar mare. Nothing about that is fake; if there’s a crescent moon or a full moon, it’ll look the same as if you pointed a telescope up and looked right at it.
What you could consider being “fake” are AI enhancements that are done to your images during post-processing, so they appear better and feature a lot more detail. Samsung’s photo processing employs an AI model that’s able to recognize when a user has taken a picture of the Moon, matching the info your camera captured to more detailed, close-up Moon photos, in order to bring out more detail from the image you already took.
Your phone’s rear 10MP telephoto camera, which is what’s being used for these shots, is physically incapable of capturing that much detail from the Moon on its own — not without optical zoom that goes way further than just 10X, at least. It will capture some key details, and you easily get a shot that’s vaguely Moon-ish, but it might look a lot blurrier than you’d hope. That’s where AI comes into play — it takes those details you could grab, and fills in the blanks, enhancing the shot for you.
Some people, however, seem to have thought that Samsung’s smartphones were producing those insane moon shots completely on their own, with minimal post-processing helping out. Because of that, many were baffled at the realization that moon shots produced by the phones are actually helped by an AI model. A Reddit post demonstrating just how much detail Samsung’s adding was enough for controversy to ensue, with many pointing fingers at Samsung for misleading claims, or even false advertising.
Why is this controversial?
There’s a huge outrage on social media stemming from this, and I can’t help but wonder why this is such a big deal. For starters, Samsung doesn’t even hide the fact that it’s using AI to enhance your ultra-zoomed-in shots of the Moon. The company has a page in Korean detailing exactly how this AI model, which has been in use since the launch of the Galaxy S21 Ultra two years ago, works. Samsung discussed in quite some death just what post-processing does, how it does it, and under which conditions the AI model kicks in. We even learn about dealing with edge cases, like what it does to account for suboptimal conditions like camera shake, or clouds in the sky blocking the view.
It’s worth noting Samsung is standing its ground in the wake of this recent outcry and denies any wrongdoing, sticking to its earlier explanation about artificial intelligence enhancing these pics, but not producing fake ones.
Samsung isn’t even forcing this experience on anyone, either, and if you feel wrong about having artificially-enhanced Moon pics, turning them off is as simple as disabling your Camera app’s Scene Optimizer feature. You’ll get those Moon pics exactly the way your camera captures them — they’ll just be way blurrier, with far less detail.
But really, why would you want to do that? The use of AI and machine learning in the cameras on our phones is commonplace right now, and has been for years. In Samsung’s case, we’ve had this kind of AI-optimized camera since the Galaxy S10, released all the way back in 2019. Unless you’re actually going out of your way to disable each and every kind of image optimization your phone contains, that means all images your phone is capturing are a mix of what the sensor sees, and what algorithms decide — and not just the shots you take of the Moon. Does that make of your phone’s images fake? No, of course not. These AI models all operate on real-world image data, and their presence is just a regular part of post-processing by this point.
We live in a world where not only are AI-enhanced pictures common, but it’s also what most people expect. When you actively chose to forego these optimizations, your images will look worse. It’s done by everyone from Apple, to Google, to Xiaomi, and for good reason: software offers a basically free way to make images look better. And when you pair that with the regular hardware innovations happening with smartphone cameras, it’s so hard to want to step from the possibilities offered. Given all of this, does it really matter that much that Samsung added one extra AI model to identify and enhance Moon pictures?
No shame in enjoying your Moon pics
Where do we draw the line in AI overstepping reality? An argument could be made that if what the AI is doing is replacing the image you took with another, more detailed one, then it’s not a real photo. That seems to be the angle that most people dumping on Samsung because of this right now are taking up. However, that’s not really what’s happening, and I wouldn’t classify this as problematic. Sure, you can “trick” the algorithm into generating a Moon photo that should be impossible. But like we’ve said, Samsung has been upfront about this for years, and it continues to make the feature available because that’s what the vast, vast majority of users actually want.
AI enhancements are everywhere. Don’t be ashamed to upload those Moon pics to your social media and to keep using your phone’s Space Zoom capabilities as a party trick with your friends. If any of them tries to tell you that they’re fake, just remind them that their iPhone is also enhancing photos using AI all the time. It’s not a sin if everyone is doing it, right?